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About Indonesian Language

Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is the official language of Indonesia. Indonesian is a standardized dialect of Malay. It is a normative form of the Malay language, an Austronesian (or Malayo-Polynesian) language which has been used as a lingua franca in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries.

Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world. Of its large population the number of people who fluently speak Indonesian is fast approaching 100%, thus making Indonesian one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Most Indonesians, aside from speaking the national language, are often fluent in another regional language (examples include Javanese, Minangkabau and Sundanese) which are commonly used at home and within the local community. Most formal education, as well as nearly all national media and other forms of communication, are conducted in Indonesian. In East Timor, which was an Indonesian province from 1975 to 1999, Indonesian is recognised by the constitution as one of the two working languages (the other is English, alongside the official languages of Tetum and Portuguese).

The Indonesian name for the language is Bahasa Indonesia (literally "the language of Indonesia"). This term can sometimes still be found in written or spoken English. In addition, the language is sometimes referred to as "Bahasa" by English-speakers, though this simply means "language" and thus is also not an official term for Indonesian.


To a certain degree, Indonesian can be regarded as an open language. Over the years, foreign languages such as Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch and English have influenced and expanded the Indonesian language, mostly through trade contacts and international media.

Because of its semi-open status, there are those who regard Indonesian (as well as other forms of Malay) as lacking sufficient vocabulary and specialist terminologies. Yet some linguists consider this view to be a misconception, as a vast majority of foreign adopted words do have native equivalents. For example, the word asimilasi (from the Dutch word assimilatie) can also be expressed in Indonesian as penggabungan. Many words describing more modern inventions, objects or ideas are often Indonesianised adoptions of foreign words (e.g. computer becomes komputer), although many of these words also have Indonesian equivalents. For example, a "cell/mobile phone" can be referred to in Indonesian as either pon-sel/ telepon seluler (lit. cellular-telephone), HP (pronounced hah-péh - the acronymic form of hand phone) or telepon genggam (lit. "hold-in-the-hand telephone"). Other words such as "rice cooker" may be referred to simply as "rice cooker" or, again, in a more native Indonesian/ Malay form, i.e. penanak nasi (a word formed from the verb menanak, meaning 'to cook rice by boiling' + nasi, meaning 'cooked rice'). Overall, the use of native and non-native words in Indonesian is equally common and reflects the country's efforts towards modernization and globalization.

Many aspects of Indonesian grammar are relatively simple in the initial stages of study, making it one of the easiest languages to learn for adults[3]. Indonesian does not require conjugation of verb tenses or participles, plural forms, articles and gender distinction for the third person pronouns. It is important to note that neither do many other languages traditionally regarded as 'complex', including Chinese (see Chinese grammar) and Thai for example. In spite of this, Indonesian and Malay are generally regarded as easy languages to learn, mostly because they are not tonal languages and they no longer use complex characters within their writing system, but rather utilize the Latin alphabet. Similar cases can also be seen in other Southeast Asian languages such as Vietnamese and Tagalog.

However, Indonesian does possess a complex system of affixations. The absence of tenses in the language is replaced by the use of aspect particles and (as with any language) Indonesian grammar often presents an array of exceptions. Also, the simplicity of Indonesian grammar at a beginners or basic level has the disadvantage of misleading many learners of the language into thinking that more advanced Indonesian grammar is just as simple.


Indonesian is a normative form of the Malay language, an Austronesian (or Malayo-Polynesian) language which has been used as a lingua franca in the Indonesian archipelago for centuries. It was elevated to the status of official language with the Indonesian declaration of independence in 1945, drawing inspiration from the Sumpah Pemuda (Youth's Oath) event in 1928.

Because of its origins, Indonesian (in its most standard form) is mutually intelligible with the official Malaysian form of Malay. However, it does differ from Malaysian in some aspects, with differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. These differences are mainly due to the Dutch and Javanese influences on Indonesian. Indonesian was also influenced by the "bazaar Malay" that was the lingua franca of the archipelago in colonial times, and thus indirectly by the other spoken languages of the islands: Malaysian Malay claims to be closer to the literary Malay of earlier centuries.

Whilst Indonesian is spoken as a mother tongue (first language) by only a small proportion of Indonesia's large population (i.e. mainly those who reside within the vicinity of Jakarta), over 200 million people regularly make use of the national language - some with varying degrees of proficiency. In a nation which boasts more than 300 native languages and a vast array of ethnic groups, the use of proper or 'good and correct' Indonesian (as opposed to Indonesian slang or regional dialects) is an essential means of communication across the archipelago. Use of the national language is abundant in the media, government bodies, schools, universities, workplaces, amongst members of the Indonesian upper-class or nobility and also in many other formal situations.

Most native speakers of Indonesian would agree that the standard, correct version of the Indonesian language is rarely used in daily communication. One can find standard and correct Indonesian in books and newspapers, or listen to it when watching the news or television/radio broadcasts, but few native Indonesian speakers use formally correct language in their daily conversations. While this is a phenomenon common to most languages in the world (for example, spoken English does not always correspond to written standards), the degree of "correctness" of spoken Indonesian (in terms of grammar and vocabulary) by comparison to its written form is noticeably low. This is mostly due to the fact that most Indonesians tend to combine certain aspects of their own local languages (eg. Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, and even Chinese dialects, particularly Hokkien) with Indonesian. The result is the creation of various types of 'regional' Indonesian, the very types that a foreigner is most likely to hear upon arriving in any Indonesian city or town. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the use of Indonesian slang, particularly in the cities. A classic example of a speaker of accented Indonesian is former president Soeharto, whose Javanese accent came through whenever he delivered a speech.

The Dutch colonisation left an imprint on the Indonesian language that can be seen in words such as polisi (police), kualitas/kwaliteit (quality), wortel (carrot), kamar (room, chamber), rokok (cigarette), korupsi (corruption), persneling (gear), kantor (office), and resleting (zipper). Alongside Malay, Portuguese was the lingua franca for trade throughout the archipelago from the sixteenth century through to the early nineteenth century. Indonesian words derived from Portuguese include sabun (soap), meja (table), boneka (doll), jendela (window), gereja (church), bola (ball), dua (two, feminine portuguese), bendera (flag), roda (wheel), sepatu (from sapato = shoes), kereta (from caretão = wagon), bangku (from banco = chair), keju (from queijo = cheese), garpu (from garfo = fork), trigu (from trigo = flour), mentega (from manteiga = butter), Sabtu (from Sabado = Saturday) (or the Arabic Sabt = Saturday) and Minggu (from domingo = Sunday). Some of the many words of Chinese origin (presented here with accompanying Hokkien/ Mandarin pronunciation derivatives as well as traditional and simplified characters) include pisau (匕首 bǐshǒu - knife), loteng, (楼/层 = lóu/céng - [upper] floor/ level), mie (麵 > 面 mi'àn - noodles), lumpia (潤餅 (Hokkien = lūn-piáⁿ) - springroll), cawan, (茶碗 cháwǎn - teacup), teko (茶壺 > 茶壶 = cháhú [Mandarin], teh-ko [Hokkien] = teapot) and even the widely used slang terms gua and lu (from the Hokkien 'goa' 我 and 'lu/li' 你 - meaning 'I/ me' and 'you'). From Sanskrit came words such as kaca (glass, mirror), raja (king), manusia (mankind) b(h)umi/ dunia (earth/ world) and agama (religion). Words of Arabic origin include k(h)abar (news), selamat/ salam (a greeting), senin (Monday), selasa (Tuesday), jumaat (Friday), ijazah (diploma), hadiah (gift/present), mungkin (from mumkin = perhaps), maklum (understood), kitab (book), tertib (orderly) and kamus (dictionary). There are also words derived from Javanese, e.g. aku (meaning I/ me (informal) and its derivative form, mengaku (to admit or confess).


The Indonesian language is part of the Western Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian languages. According to the Ethnologue, Indonesian is modelled after Riau Malay, a form of Old Malay originally spoken in Northeast Sumatra.

Geographic distribution

The language is spoken throughout Indonesia (and East Timor), although it is used most extensively as a first language in urban areas and usually as a second or third language in more rural parts of Indonesia. It is also spoken by an additional 1.5+ million people worldwide, particularly in the Netherlands, the Philippines and Malaysia. Also spoken as daily language in some parts of Australia (mostly in Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands), Brunei, Singapore, some parts of Thailand ( Southern Thailand ), East Timor, Saudi Arabia, Suriname, New Caledonia, and the United States.

Official status

Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia.


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